Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

Salon's Mike Madden explodes five right-wing myths about 'socialised medicine'.

Turning America socialist apparently wasn't enough for him -- now President Obama is trying to make old people kill themselves, callously deny important medical procedures, funnel tax dollars to abortion clinics and wiggle the government's way into every doctor's office in America.

Robert Skidelsky writes in the Financial Times on how to rebuild the reputation of economics.

Keynes opened the way to political economy; but economists opted for a regressive research programme, disguised by sophisticated mathematics, that set it apart. The present crisis gives us an opportunity to try again.

The Times's reporter at large Martin Fletcher argues that Britain should have boycotted President Ahmadinejad's inauguration.

Mr Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are many things, most of them not very nice -- but they are not fools. They may or may not negotiate on nuclear issues, but their decision will certainly not depend on whether a clutch of ambassadors graced the President's inauguration.

The Guardian's Seumas Milne predicts that mass unemployment will offer Labour one more chance for radical intervention.

David Cameron's plans to focus the economic policy of an incoming Tory government on reducing public debt by slashing public spending can only deepen recession or hold back recovery. A moment for a fundamental change of direction may have been missed last autumn. But given the expected consequences, the chance is likely to come again.

Anne Penketh writes in the Independent that Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea has revealed Obama's nuclear disarmament strategy.

Obama has reached out to his former antagonist in order to play to Mr Clinton's strengths. And he may have taken another step along the road to nuclear disarmament. Believe me, the Iranians are watching.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.